REVIEW: sonicUPGRADE – Stratosphere & Eargasm

Just as he has an eye for style, jack-of-all-trades Tai “Upgrade” Rotan has an ear for music. Having composed and produced countless instrumentals and albums (including an opera soundtrack), the Atlanta-based mastermind describes himself as an “audio experience architect”. This morning I opened my ears to a couple of his albums: Stratosphere and Eargasm.

Stratosphere

The album blasts off with “Stratosphere,” which permeates my meninges and plunges its tentacles of drum and bass and strings deep into my cerebrum for an appeasing musical experience that is akin to comfortably sitting on the beach in a fur coat with pão de queijo stuffed in its pockets. The album continues with funky, jazzy “Maracas.” The playful bass supports Jimmy King’s star trumpet as it joyfully gambols through a soundscape that is part Atari and part night on the town. After all that fun, the next track to grace the album, “Weekends,” is a song that justifies the pants you do not leave the house in. I’m not talking about those flannel Celtics PJs I used to see regularly at the Stop & Shop, but rather the well-designed knits that go well on a sunny spot of the floor with a newspaper. (Do people still read real newspapers at home?) “Weekends” is rhythmic and calculated and pushes things in a way that is daring but not disastrously so, like running around in rooms with wood floors while wearing socks. There is a chance you may slip and fall, but when you manage to stay upright, the feeling is pure delight. (And those people who might hurt themselves probably don’t do much running around in socks anyway.)

“Good Friday” is a track that I imagine could go well in a European dentist’s office. I have never knowingly been in a European dentist’s office, but any music I have ever heard in an American dentist’s office lacks the flavor of “Good Friday.” (I wonder if it’s compensation for abstention from meat.) “Feel Good Gumbo” again features Jimmy King and lives up to its promise. All the song’s ingredients play off of one other, intertwining and mixing into a bowlful of pure contentment (Northfield, Minnesota, eat your heart out).

Stratosphere is short and sweet, like a good-natured cat. Unpredictable at times, it takes measured chances and does not disappoint.

Eargasm

2012’s Eargasm begins with “Pluto,” a cosmic sojourn with Aleon Craft as a fellow passenger. Craft’s flawless delivery matches the speed of Andre 3000 (Oh, the associations in my brain – drip drip drop there goes an eargasm…) but is somehow on another level, like a shortboarder compares to a windsurfer. The album continues the space journey with “Its OK”. After opening with a retro sound, like the agent of Dennis Mitchell’s destruction, “Its OK” quickly slingshots past the present to break the window into the future. Part of the track glides three thousand feet above sea level while the beat keeps it firmly planted on the ground. Aleon makes another appearance here, along with Heavy Slim; the two tie everything together in an infectiously eargasmic bow.

“ON FIRE” is the next track on the album, and it is one that I could listen to over and over and over again, getting something different out of it each time. The song has the magical power of versatility, in that it speaks to basic human desires in a way that could just as easily work to ramp you up for a stellar day at work as for a steamy night in. It could even be the soundtrack of a chill session with that guy you know who has cartoon-emblazoned blotter paper as frequently as he attempts to make a goatee look stylish. There are moments in the next track on Eargasm, “Yacht Ballroom,” that are sublimely understated, and other moments that are supremely elegant. The track buoyantly advances through a sea of keys and beats, steadily rocking (but it’s okay because everyone has their sea legs on), with a beat that can be as thumping as the listener desires. “Yacht Ballroom,” like much of Eargasm, is a choose-your-own-adventure. On the track, Upgrade manages marvels, like a magician, creating something out of nothing then making it disappear. When the song halts to an end, I find myself leaning forward, panting, wanting more.

Coinciding with the first karmic notes of “Kundalini,” my Shakti yawned and stretched. Yes, perhaps I was getting too attached to the previous track, chitters the monkey in my mind, as my third eye slowly blinks away the rheum and focuses on the cosmic eye chart. D-E-F-P-O-T-E-C. The track proceeds and develops, with layers audible and inaudible, and suddenly, instinctually a hot climate invites, snakes be damned. Blasting the listener from Kundalini’s trance is “Cinema,” a big, grand, voluptuous track. This song is big hair, gilt rococo, chocolate on chocolate. Easily the music for a fancy dress ball or an eventful bank robbery, “Cinema” takes Eargasm out in style, guns blazing.

Upgrade is a force to be reckoned with. With unassuming mixing and producing, he takes sounds and transmogrifies them into more than they may seem. Check out sonicUPGRADE; no matter your tastes, there is something with his name on it that will fit perfectly in your Music Library.

Gwendolyn Lewis Written by:

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